Justia Class Action Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Native American Law
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In 1999, Native American farmers sued, alleging that the USDA had discriminated against them with respect to farm loans and other benefits. The court certified a class, including LaBatte, a farmer and member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Tribe. Under a settlement, the government would provide a $680 million compensation fund. The Track A claims process was limited to claimants seeking standard payments of $50,000. Track A did not require proof of discrimination. Under Track B, a claimant could seek up to $250,000 by establishing that his treatment by USDA was "less favorable than that accorded a specifically identified, similarly situated white farmer(s),” which could be established “by a credible sworn statement based on personal knowledge by an individual who is not a member of the Claimant’s family.” A "Neutral" would review the record without a hearing; there was no appeal of the decision. LaBatte's Track B claim identified two individuals who had personal knowledge of the USDA’s treatment of similarly-situated white farmers. Both worked for the government's Bureau of Indian Affairs. Before LaBatte could finalize their declarations, the government directed the two not to sign the declarations. The Neutral denied LaBatte’s claim. The Claims Court affirmed the dismissal of LaBatte’s appeal, acknowledging that it had jurisdiction over breach of settlement claims, but concluding that it lacked jurisdiction over LaBatte’s case because LaBatte had, in the Track B process, waived his right to judicial review to challenge the breach of the agreement. The Federal Circuit reversed. There is no language in the agreement that suggests that breach of the agreement would not give rise to a new cause of action. View "LaBatte v. United States" on Justia Law

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Under the 1887 General Allotment Act and the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, the U.S. is the trustee of Indian allotment land. A 1996 class action, filed on behalf of 300,000 Native Americans, alleged that the government had mismanaged their Individual Indian Money accounts by failing to account for billions of dollars from leases for oil extractions and logging. The litigation’s 2011 settlement provided for “historical accounting claims,” tied to that mismanagement, and “land administration claims” for individuals that held, on September 30, 2009, an ownership interest in land held in trust or restricted status, claiming breach of trust and fiduciary mismanagement of land, oil, natural gas, mineral, timber, grazing, water and other resources. Members of the land administration class who failed to opt out were deemed to have waived any claims within the scope of the settlement. The Claims Resolution Act of 2010 ratified the settlement and funded it with $3.4 billion, The court provided notice, including of the opt-out right. Challenges to the opt-out and notice provisions were rejected. Indian allotees with interests in the North Dakota Fort Berthold Reservation, located on the Bakken Oil Shale (contiguous deposits of oil and natural gas), cannot lease their oil-and-gas interests unless the Secretary approves the lease as “in the best interest of the Indian owners,” 122 Stat. 620 (1998). In 2013, allotees sued, alleging that, in 2006-2009, a company obtained Fort Berthold allotment leases at below-market rates, then resold them for a profit of $900 million. The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the government, holding that the allotees had forfeited their claims by failing to opt out of the earlier settlement. View "Two Shields v. United States" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of the Department of the Interior’s misadministration of Native American trust accounts and an ensuing complex, nationwide litigation and settlement. The class action representatives appealed the district court's denial of compensation for expenses incurred during the litigation and settlement process. The court affirmed the district court’s denial of additional compensation for expenses for the lead plaintiff because the district court expressly wrapped those costs into an incentive award given to her earlier. However, the district court erred in categorically rejecting as procedurally barred the class representatives’ claim for the recovery of third-party payments, and remanded for the district court to apply its accumulated expertise and discretion to the question of whether third-party compensation can and should be paid under the Settlement Agreement. View "Cobell v. Jewell" on Justia Law

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ASNA is an inter-tribal consortium of federally recognized tribes situated in Alaska. In 1996, 1997, and 1998, ASNA contracted with the Department of Health and Human Services, under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act to operate a hospital. ISDA requires the government to pay costs reasonably incurred in managing the programs, 25 U.S.C. 450j-1. There have been three previous class actions concerning payments. One resulted in settlement; in two the courts denied class certification for failure to exhaust administrative remedies because claims had not first been submitted to the contracting officer. ANSA brought its claim, arguing that it was a putative class member in those suits even though it did not individually present claims to the contracting officer within the Contract Disputes Act six-year limitations period and that the limitations period was tolled while those cases were pending. The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals dismissed. The Federal Circuit reversed. The class actions involved similar issues and parties, and put the government on notice of the general nature and legal theory underlying ASNA’s claims. ASNA monitored the legal landscape, took action as appropriate, and reasonably relied upon controlling authority, holding that it did not need to exhaust administrative remedies to be a class member.View "Arctic Slope Native Assoc., Ltd. v. Sebelius" on Justia Law

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This was an appeal from the approval of a class action settlement agreement related to the Secretary of the Interior's breach of duty to account for funds held in trust for individual Native Americans. The court concluded that the record failed to confirm either the existence of a purported intra-class conflict or a violation of due process. Rather, the record confirmed that the two plaintiff classes possess the necessary commonality and adequate representation to warrant certification, and that the district court, therefore, did not abuse its discretion in certifying the two plaintiff classes in the settlement or in approving the terms of the settlement as fair, reasonable, and adequate pursuant to Rule 23(e). Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment approving the class settlement agreement. View "Cobell, et al. v. Salazar, et al." on Justia Law